How can I avoid "mindfulness"/meditation training program at work?
June 2, 2016 10:14 PM   Subscribe

My employer, a multinational corporation, in Sydney, decided to take put employees on this most recent corporate fad, mindfulness/meditation training program.

However, I am super cynical about such stuff and I believe employer is crossing my personal/private (or spiritual) boundary. I am very uncomfortable.

I can probably say I don't want to participate in it and that would be ok, I won't be forced. However my feeling is that I will appear to be the odd one.

So my question is how can I avoid this program gracefully so I don't appear an unfriendly, cynical being avoiding a team bonding opportunity etc.

For those who are curious about this corporate meditation sessions here is a random link and a newspaper coverage about this recent fad.
posted by neworder7 to Work & Money (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you just have to bite the bullet with this one. Participate at the level that others around you are (which will be minimal). I am with you, corporate training, nevermind pseudo spiritual corporate training, is usually just terrible. You gotta play the game sometimes, or you know,be minimally agreeable.
posted by stormygrey at 10:24 PM on June 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

I totally feel you on this, but this is a hard situation to back out of gracefully. I've worked with a company that really valued this kind of personal development stuff, and saying no (which *should* be perfectly within your rights, and I think things like this should be optional anyway) will definitely be noted by your superiors and peers, and not in a good way.

Doubtless there are many others who feel this way who would be annoyed if you set a hard limit here when they felt they could not, and will resent you. It's not going to kill you, so for the sake of your professional image, I think you should just suck it up and go.
posted by ananci at 10:30 PM on June 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

The nice thing about "mindfulness" as I am familiar with it, is it doesn't actually require you to do anything outwardly. It's not like trust falls or anything like that. Every time I've had to do something like this, I take it as an opportunity to tune out for a bit. Looks from the article, like a bunch of people sitting around with their eyes closed. Maybe you could plan your next vacation while acting "mindful" from the outside?
posted by Toddles at 10:36 PM on June 2, 2016 [12 favorites]

Just resist passively by being mindful as hell during training.

Barring that, you can be sick that day.

If you can vaguely but plausibly claim some sort of religious objection to it you could avoid being seen as recalcitrant but you'll still obviously be the odd one out.

If you must go--when I've had to go to trainings that were otherwise pointless, I've always managed to get at least something out of them, even if it's something like "I got to know a little more about that one person I never talk to" or "I learned what her team does when before I didn't really know."
posted by MoonOrb at 10:49 PM on June 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

My company does this sort of thing and I really like it, actually. I'll admit the "Smiling Mind" name is a bit cute and that newspaper article is kinda woo-sy, but there are a lot of scientifically discovered benefits and studies done on meditation and it really is good for you. Or at the bare minimum it's an opportunity to nap at work. "Smiling Mind" sounds pretty similar to what my instructor does: it's half meditation class and half lectures on the benefits of meditation on the brain, nervous system, etc. Meditation is only as "woo"-y as someone wants it to be and a corporate based system is just not gonna be putting on the woo.

I'm not sure how you'd get out of it, though--it's not like you can claim religious exemption or that it'll pull your back out. If you gotta do it, I think you'll be fine. Seriously, just take a nap or zone out while it happens if you have to.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:06 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is it a one-day thing or ongoing? If one (or a couple) days, let me be the first to offer my condolences on the loss of your beloved aunt.
posted by cyndigo at 11:12 PM on June 2, 2016 [10 favorites]

Assuming that you don't want to call attention to yourself as a mindfulness refusnik:

Sitting meditation can be really hard on some people's bodies, especially if it's done on cushions on the floor. If nothing else, I think you can very reasonably ask to do your meditation in a regular, upright western chair. Because of the height difference, they will almost certainly put you and your chair at the back of the room-- which means that it's unlikely that anyone will notice that you're not following along. As long as you keep your eyes either closed or downcast, you'll be free to think about any damn thing you'd like: Compose a poem, make up a recipe, try to remember verb declensions, challenge yourself with long division problems, pick out names for your next several pets-- whatever. If you can do it at, you can do it during the meditation session.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:29 PM on June 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I did this program specifically, with IBM in Australia when I worked there. At least in my iteration participation was very minimal.

I would probably just suck it up, the costs of not doing so are much higher. Don't ruin it in the session/s for others if you can avoid it.

I note, whilst acknowledging that mindfulness is not for everyone, it has a massive preponderance of evidence, clinical and otherwise, attesting to its effectiveness. Its science and it does work, if that's any consolation.

I dunno, lots of stuff at work is mostly a waste time, this probably isn't any more or less than other stuff you probably do unthinkingly. Apologies if this doesn't answer your question.
posted by smoke at 11:35 PM on June 2, 2016 [18 favorites]

Oh ps when I did it there was absolutely nothing mystical /spiritual about the program. It's very work and real life focused.
posted by smoke at 11:37 PM on June 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm of a mixed mind on this one. While I'm also skeptical of management fads meditation has been found to have benefits and "mindfulness" really just means paying attention. I don't how a corporation could fuck that up (but I have confidence that they will).

As long as they're doing this during work hours and they're covering any expenses I'd be inclined to suck it up, play along for the duration and then feel free to take anything that was useful and ignore anything that wasn't.

Meditation doesn't have to be "spiritual". It really just involves learning to step back from your thoughts and observe what's going on in your own head.
posted by Awfki at 4:24 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am pro meditation, but I've never done it in a corporate environment, and I think mandatory corporate meditation is kind of playing with fire. It's not quite accurate, but I think of meditation as ayahuasca lite. (And probably only "lite" because most Westerners are not very experienced in it.) You can have powerful positive OR negative outcomes, and if I were an employer, I would not want to be the person who forced someone into a situation that might result in manifestations of anxiety, manic depression, schizophrenic episodes.

Again, I am pro-meditation for myself, and I do think it has potential, even in a corporate environment, but I am super uncomfortable with a meditation forced march, and I think a subtle email to HR with a selection of articles you find googling "dark side of meditation" might work as well as a doctor's excuse. Failing that, I'd totally do a doctor's excuse note.
posted by instamatic at 4:35 AM on June 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

You know, as long as it's not some on-going BS, just a couple days seminar, suck it up. You don't have to engage, and you don't have to do it, just sit in the room with your co-workers.

Don't bad mouth it, don't be negative. Just sit in the back, quietly and revel in the weirdness.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:45 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is what Scientific American has to say about this sort of meditation.

From Harvard Health.

From Forbes.

Basically consensus is starting to suggest that there's quite a few benefits to be conveyed by mindfulness.

I'd say give it a day, especially if you suspect there will be fallout if you skip it, and if you hate it you can always plead Dead Aunt at lunchtime (or something else appropriate) and leave.
posted by Jilder at 5:49 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Meditation is probably a strategy in the overarching category of mindfulness. I've been to these at the corporate level. It's innocuous, and you might actually get something out of it. I was super uncomfortable with having my eyes closed during the meditative exercises, and I just communicated that to the facilitator and just kept my eyes downcast instead. Other than that, I tuned a lot of it out and tried to find a kernel of something that was meaningful to me.

It's probably more about being in the moment and not having your mind racing with 14 other things while in meetings.
posted by archimago at 5:52 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I put this is the same category as the Briggs-Meyers, handwriting analysis, or one of the other eleventeen things that some consultant friend of the CEO has sold various employers on. Play along, remember you're getting paid to do it regardless, and it's a break from the usual grind, and tell them what they want to hear. In 6 months to a year they'll be on to the next thing. Maybe it's my DISC personality test result of "team member/follower" talking, but there's no gain in fighting the system.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 6:32 AM on June 3, 2016

You can just zone out through the training like you would for any training you don't find interesting (ironically maybe most people will also be zoning out just not intentionally).

You will likely be in a workshop where after explaining the ideas/science of mindfulness everyone is asked to lower their eyes/close their eyes, and focus on the breath while seated in a chair (I doubt you'd all be given meditation cushions and asked to sit like that) for a few minutes, that is a central practice. Asides from that the other practices that could be covered involve exploring objects and situations with heightened awareness, like feeling an unknown object with your eyes closed. The trainer will solicit people's experiences (e.g. "what did you notice") and you can just not participate. You might be asked to do some exercises with a partner but that won't be different than any other team building workshop. Given that it is being offered in a corporate environment I doubt it will stray far from it being presented as a set of tools/skills to enhance clarity and reduce stress.

After the workshop you might have someone start meetings with a group meditation some of the time and again you can just let your mind wander if you don't want to participate. They might direct you to an app where you can practice every day, again you can fake this or ignore it. It is notoriously hard to get people to practice mindfulness regularly so you won't really stand out unless everyone is super into it (and they will also fall off at some point most likely).

Mindfulness has a spiritual component (because the ultimate aim of it is personal transformation and there's also a focus on developing certain qualities like compassion, gratitude, and acceptance) but as others have mentioned is really about learning to pay attention to where your mind is so that you can direct your attention where you intend to more often. If you spend 5-10 minutes a day consciously focusing on your breath you might start to notice more often when your mind is wandering, you might start to notice when you're feeling bad or stuck on negative thoughts more often. It's meant to put you in touch with reality and that's not usually pleasant but over time you develop greater acceptance with what you notice so you are better able to handle what life throws at you without hiding from it, you'll be kinder to yourself when you realize how critical your inner voice can be, etc.

If your coworkers ask your opinion or want to talk about it after I'd just say something like "it was interesting" versus getting into a debate about it. Or you could say "I find activity X very meditative and that's what I like to do" (that's what the guys around me say..."I play guitar so that's meditation for me", "I work out and that's my meditation", etc).

I'm involved with mindfulness training and I agree it should never be pushed on people but if someone in your company has bought into it they likely think it would be beneficial from a stress reduction standpoint with good intentions so try to see it from that angle versus them trying to force you to drink the kool-aid.
posted by lafemma at 7:01 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

If it makes you feel any better there is a metric shit tonne of scientific proof meditation works, the article I've linked to links to numerous papers on the matter, I imagine your boss is most interested on the section on productivity. Not so sure about the mindfulness part though. So maybe go with a slightly more open mind & try & get something out of it. It's a work thing, you have to go might as well make the best of it.
posted by wwax at 7:02 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know someone who dodged a similar corporate mental training by saying that his it might interfere with his martial arts training which had a competing mental training regime. Kind of the way tennis players will refuse to play racquetball because they're afraid their discipline around shoulder-not-elbow would be broken. Worked for him!
posted by MattD at 7:11 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Typically, the purpose of these sort of HR events isn't the overt message of whatever fad is being pushed that month. It is almost always a team-building socializing event instead. The fad is just the excuse/framework to get people out of their offices/cubicles and interacting outside of the work context so that people can form more extensive and cooperative networks within the company.
posted by srboisvert at 7:23 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yes, there is an abundance of data and personal anecdotes that mindfulness/meditation are wonderful for everything. I believe that, personally, and I practice it...on my own time, on my own terms. It is appalling that your employer is presuming to step into the spiritual/mental realm in this way. The idea of this lights up some rebellious "OH HELL NO" reaction in me and I completely, completely sympathize with your hesitation here.
posted by witchen at 7:28 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's Captain Awkward on getting out of corporate-mandated yoga and I know that yoga contains physical aspects that "meditation and mindfulness" may not, but check this comment:
I spent years training to teach others in…hmm, specifics not relevant…a body-based approach to mindfulness, and I am entirely on your side. I personally had massive emotional stuff come up in that training and had times that I could barely hold myself together. I saw classmates struggle as well, and learned when we were finished about struggles I didn’t perceive when they were happening. Years before that when I trained in massage I witnessed and experienced similar things.

I think people who believe yoga and so forth are universally helpful are either unaware of these not-uncommon experiences or are filtering out the people who experience them, believing they don’t count for some reason or other. Not supporting people who decide to leave, or dismissing them either internally or to the class (wow, that’s egregious) is a very obvious way of putting people into the “doesn’t count” category. The somatic teachers and bodyworkers I trust are those who have deep respect for their students/clients’ experiences, in their entirety, not just the experiences that fit their model for what “should” happen.

(btw, meditation is also not harmless — it’s too powerful not to have the potential for bad effects as well as good)
Mindfulness is equally powerful, and if you don't want to put yourself in this position, YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE TO. Anyone who's going to be grumpy at you because you stood up for yourself is not on your side and not worthy of your consideration.
posted by disconnect at 7:49 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I personally admire the inward benefits of both meditation and mindfulness, but I can respect you being ambivalent and altogether dismissive of it being forced down your throat in a corporate setting. That would bother me too, as I would see its company-wide 'purposeful' implementation as a bit of a betrayal of what the two practices are really about: becoming as clear, as settled, and as free from anxiety within yourself as possible; and, allowing your mental state to reside more in nonjudgmental acceptance and freedom from reaction, even regarding yourself. I'd be asking myself, what is it they're seeking to gain from this?

However, I feel that any cognitive dissonances you feel on this subject should be reflected towards the company that is attempting to implement it alone. Even if they are seeking to gain 'productivity' and 'workplace cohesion' within their employee base, I think it's an excellent opportunity for you to just take time to reflect where you might not do so normally. Having it done at work makes it a little weird, but no one's asking you to join a cult or adopt a woo-woo kumbaya attitude. The pragmatism of meditation and mindfulness as I understand it is just really to relax into yourself feeling a blank slate attitude more and more. Frankly, I think there's a lot of freedom in being super-duper peaceful more often—i.e., as if you've just come from a nice bath!

That said, your best option is to just take as middle-ground an approach as possible. You needn't contribute or participate beyond your desire to, so feel free to just act as if you're taking a little work-sanctioned break for a little while. No big deal.
posted by a good beginning at 8:33 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

The training that I did was 1-2 hour session weekly or biweekly spread out over several months, so "sick that day" won't really work. I will say that the instructor was very clear about the syllabus and schedule, and when there was something that was too "woo" for me, I skipped that week, I mean my workload and deadlines were such that I just couldn't make time for it that day. Also, they assigned homework, like to do a 15-minute audio-track meditation a few times during hte week, or to try using these listening/reflection skills during your next argument, or to read this handout to give more context for next week's discussion of walking meditation. But there was never any followup on whether we had or hadn't done this "homework" aside from general "does anyone have any thoughts about their experience since last week with (thing we suggested you do)?" which you can just nod thoughtfully while other people talk. Part of the mindfulness concept is that it's self-initiated and that nobody can make you do it, so the instructor is not likely to be pushy about your level of participation.
posted by aimedwander at 9:32 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

So my question is how can I avoid this program gracefully so I don't appear an unfriendly, cynical being avoiding a team bonding opportunity etc.

"I cannot participate as that would be against my beliefs." or "I can't do that. It's not for me."

If pressed:

"I am not prepared to discuss that. This is a private matter." You don't owe more explanation to your employer than identifying an activity your beliefs don't allow you to participate in. That belief just has to be sincere. Essentially, you quietly ask for a religious/philosophical accommodation to not be made to participate, with your management. You look sincere and serious, not cynical.

However: However my feeling is that I will appear to be the odd one.

Not being there will be noticed. This will be the price you have to pay for choosing to not be part of the training/quasi-religious activity. If you manager can or will explain to others that you have official permission to not attend, based on an accommodation, that can mitigate that.
posted by bonehead at 9:52 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

The fad is just the excuse/framework to get people out of their offices/cubicles and interacting outside of the work context so that people can form more extensive and cooperative networks within the company.

With respect, a mandatory company prayer breakfast would be equally problematic.
posted by bonehead at 9:57 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

We had to do a full afternoon of mindfulness as part of my teacher's college training and I think it's a huge waste of time (forced training in some kind of pseudo-spirituality ughh). I spent that afternoon writing fanfiction in a notebook and people just thought I was eagerly taking notes; during the parts where our eyes had to be closed I just thought about the story I was writing. It made the experience tolerable, none of my peers thought I was a jerk, my superiors were happy, and we never mentioned it again. Could you do something similar and show up but zone out?
posted by buteo at 10:09 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

This sounds annoying, although I'm just not sure I see the religious/spirituality connection here. It is totally possible to meditate/increase mindfulness and have it be deeply spiritual, but also to have it not be. I have a little mindfulness app on my phone where I do morning/evening check-ins on daily gratitudes, and it is really not a religious practice. If you look at the other things mentioned in that article -- smoothie-making workshops, coloring book sessions, etc. -- I think this falls right in there with that. You personally might find it obnoxious/dumb/not your cup of tea, but it's not some huge violation of religious freedom in a way that a prayer breakfast would be.

If you really feel strongly about it, you can and should say "Hey, I'm not really comfortable with this and I'd like to bow out" or "I'm slammed with work and need to stay on task, sorry!" (if plausible). But you can't really control whether people will find it odd. Honestly, anytime someone stands up for their religious/spiritual beliefs in a visible way, there is the possibility that people will get judge-y and possibly even offended/hostile about it. Ask a woman who wears hijab. So only you can decide whether the workshop bothers you so much that you want to take the risk of a negative reaction -- you can't control whether that reaction will happen (rightly or wrongly!).
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:19 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mindfulness and meditation themselves have nothing to do with religion, and don't require belief in anything mystical.
I'm an atheist, and have found mindfulness helpful in terms of re-focussing my mental state. Think of it as just letting your brain stretch out a little and relax.
posted by w0mbat at 11:03 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mindfulness and meditation themselves have nothing to do with religion, and don't require belief in anything mystical.

Again, with respect, it's not the employer's place to make that choice for an employee. It's enough that the OP says they're not comfortable with this philosophically. From above:

I believe employer is crossing my personal/private (or spiritual) boundary. I am very uncomfortable.

A statement like this would require accommodation in my workplace.

We've had people decline to participate in team-building "social" activities for very much these sorts of reasons. The principle we work under, indeed the code established in law in Canada, is that an employer should never be questioning if an employee's stated beliefs are valid, only that they're sincere.
posted by bonehead at 11:16 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

If this is happening during working hours then it's going to be a lot easier to just go along with it and try to not really care about it, I think. Otherwise it looks to participants as though you've been given a free day off, which may get people's backs up. If it's happening outside of working hours then oh dear, it looks like you have many personal commitments on those days, perhaps family activities and/or events that can't be changed, how sad that you won't be able to attend, you certainly do hope everyone has fun, etc.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:21 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

My company just instituted a similar thing, and the kickoff meeting was FOUR HOURS of mindfulness training, which featured no less than three five minute "meditation and reflection" sessions. I didn't want to go, that sort of thing really isn't my bag, but I wasn't given a choice. So, the choice I made was to not give a damn when I was there.

I mean, I participated in the exercises and made it look like I was invested in it; I didn't make a mockery of it, nor did I badmouth it while I was there, but during the five minute meditation sections, when everyone was closing their eyes and finding their center, I was looking at Twitter on my phone because that was more interesting.

I went through the motions; it was fine. And now, I'll never have to do it again - until my company latches on to the next workplace fad, at which time I'll go through those motions. Such is the cost of working at a company that considers itself "enlightened" about these things.
posted by pdb at 2:50 PM on June 3, 2016

I can speak specifically to those Smiling Mind meditations, as I have introduced them (as a high school teacher )to my Senior students. It is not a compulsory activity, and many of them seek it out during exam times to calm their brains in periods of high stress.

The sessions/recordings range from 5 minute body scans to 20 minute more focussed ones. I am the last one to work with spiritual stuff and am wary of woo, especially fads for adolescents, but these particular sessions are incredibly effective and are designed with a huge amount of research behind them. I never thought I would meditate in my life, but I use a quick body scan to set me off to sleep at night to counteract anxiety disorder.

The overwhelming theme in these responses you've received (despite not really asking your question) seems to be to "give it a go". I find forced mindfulness frustrating - if there is any way for your company's management to let you do these sessions on your own terms, when YOU feel like you need them, it would make a huge difference, in terms of not feeling controlled and forced into this.

If all else fails, either plan your own holiday or talk to HR to opt out. Surely this can only be a suggested activity, not compulsory?
posted by chronic sublime at 8:38 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

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